Company: Eastman Kodak Company
Contact: Aprille Byam, Research Analyst, Consumer Digital Group
Location: Rochester, NY
Industry: Consumer Electronics B2B, B2C
Annual revenue: $10,301,000,000
Number of employees: 26900

Quick Read:

When it chose to enter the saturated inkjet market 20 years late, Eastman Kodak had a few surprises up its sleeve: half-priced ink cartridges and prints that retain their bright colors more than 600 times longer than competitor brands. Still, in a world where more-tantalizing gadgets such as ultra-thin laptops and digital cameras often take center stage, the company found it also needed a little ingenuity on the marketing side if it was to merit the attention it needed to gain market share.

Proven advertising techniques were set in motion and a special promotion with NBC's Celebrity Apprentice was launched; nevertheless, questions remained about how effective those were in luring the target market. So company Research Analyst Aprille Byam quickly set out to get a better feel for market perceptions and behavior, hoping she might also generate excitement around the new technology.

Aspiring to bridge the gap between quantitative and qualitative research, she worked with online panel management provider Vision Critical in 2007 to create Print Rave, a fusion of Web-based panel and online community, that allowed the company to both directly communicate with users and moderate member-to-member interactions.

That combination allowed Eastman Kodak to delve into the hard questions and keep users engaged so that it could gather the insight needed to forge ahead in the inkjet space.

The Challenge:

When Eastman Kodak broke onto the consumer inkjet scene in February 2007, leading competitor Hewlett-Packard had already secured a strong reputation for reliable products, a loyal customer base, and a 33% global market share. To acquire its own piece of the pie, Eastman Kodak needed to build excitement around a product that, although innovative in its own right, lacked the sex-appeal to automatically turn heads and generate buzz.

So, in hopes of sparking interest and perfecting its marketing message, Aprille Byam, Research Analyst for Eastman Kodak's Consumer Digital Group, set out that same month to connect with the company's inkjet target market and find out what really makes them tick.

The Campaign:

Byam teamed with Vancouver-based Vision Critical to create Print Rave, an online destination that integrated user communities into Vision Critical's proprietary Panel+ technology, a Web 2.0 system used to conduct real-time online research. Community members, whose eligibility requirements included ownership of any brand of inkjet printer, were recruited from Vision Critical's database with an email that detailed the benefits of membership (monthly drawing incentives, interaction with like-minded individuals, etc.) and provided sample survey questions to demonstrate tone.

The first survey under the new program was launched in May 2007; thereafter, surveys were released once a month on average. Questions covered a range of topics, from how members use their printers or relate to their work space, to marketing- and brand-related probes, and fun, off-the-wall queries simply designed to keep things interesting and encourage continued participation.

Byam was also interested in gathering more qualitative analysis to create a more complete picture. The community portal, which she described as "a place for them to play and engage, to be creative and to show who they are," permitted exactly that by providing activities and a forum for members to directly interact with one another and share their thoughts and creations.

"We wanted a space for them to talk to each other, where we could listen in and find out what they're saying," said Byam.

In addition to accessing and completing surveys, the community gave members the opportunity to...

  • Create and update their user profiles
  • Upload and share pictures and video
  • Create photo-essays and photo-diaries
  • Post links
  • Participate in forum discussions
  • Ask Kodak or the community printer-related questions
  • View past survey results
  • Win shirts, hats and other "tribal" gear

In response to member feedback saying "I really want to participate" and "let me do more," Kodak also launched special activities to further spur engagement:

  • Mentor connections, which matched some of the more experienced inkjet users with newbies looking for advice.
  • Community moderators—particularly active members who were appointed to post their own questions and discussions for the group and moderate those threads.
  • White space, where members were invited to pitch new product ideas.
  • Meet-up events, where members could connect with each other and Kodak face-to-face.
  • Explorer activities, which encouraged members to go out into the "real world" and report on trends. "They'll check out what's going on in Best Buy, for example, and come back to us with that information," said Byam. "It gives them intrinsic rewards, a sense of glory, and it's a huge engagement boost."

The Results:

The Print Rave panel/community hybrid—which boasts over 2,600 members to date—has been effective in combining Kodak's quantitative and qualitative research initiatives, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior, trends, and demand, which the company continues to use to its advantage.

"By living with these people over a long period of time, we can go back and forth between qualitative and quantitative research and connect all this data together," said Byam.

In addition to evaluating existing products and marketing initiatives, it has helped to identify new product and marketing opportunities through analysis of how members shop, how they operate within their work spaces, and how diverse the projects are that they print.

"The panel verifies topics uncovered in the community and provides the opportunity to get insight into things we hadn't thought about," Byam added.

For example, many members responded to "Ask Kodak a printer question" with inquiries into the type of paper or ink that would best suit a particular project. "We found out we had a good story behind ink and paper solutions, which had previously been third-tier in our value marketing propositions," said Byam. Several new product features have also been suggested consistently enough for Kodak to zero in on specific market preferences.

In addition to illustrating behavioral and shopping cycle insights, exercises such as the explorer activities and also video diaries have succeeded in bringing new light to past studies. For instance, using a survey question to probe into the time it takes to print a page gave rise to different results and opinions about product speed than when those same people were instead asked to video and document the process.

"The flexibility of this tool is really important and adds so much depth to what we're doing," said Byam. "We're figuring out the best way to understand what they're doing, getting them to think more about the unconscious decisions they make—things they can't explain or give realistic responses to—and we're poking at those from all directions."

Lessons Learned:

About engaging an online panel community over the long term—a key component of keeping up with trends and ensuring that your research remains valid—Byam offered a few words of wisdom:

  • "Create a healthy balance." The three-pronged approach to generating feedback—through panel questionnaires, company-initiated chat sessions and activities, and member-initiated discussions—resulted in a good mix of quantitative and qualitative data and kept the panel from becoming mundane.
  • "Allow and facilitate hierarchy, creativity and identity." By providing the space for members to show off their creativity and lend their expertise, empowering high-activity users to play leadership roles, and offering "tribal" gear, Kodak encouraged members to "belong" to the community and keep coming back for more.
  • "Recruit externally from the start." Initially, panelists were recruited from the company's customer base, but this made for a slow process since Kodak had not yet developed a strong, diversified following. Switching to an outsourced panel allowed the community to ramp up much more quickly and created a broader demographic in line with the company's target market.

Related Links:

Note: Eastman Kodak annual revenue figure, above, refers to B2C revenue.

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Case Study: How a Consumer Electronics Company Leveraged the Power of Community to Uncover Market Preferences and Build Excitement for a New Product Line

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Kimberly Smith is a freelance writer. Reach her via

LinkedIn: Kim Smith